Comment

05.11.18

Innovating workforce productivity

Source: PSE Oct/Nov 2018

Cllr Peter Fleming OBE, chair of the LGA’s Improvement & Innovation Board and leader of Sevenoaks District Council, looks at how technology can improve the productivity of public-sector workers.

Across the country, councils have been harnessing the power of digital tools and solutions to improve outcomes for their residents for some time. Whereas previously the focus was on websites and transactions, the conversation has moved to mobile technologies, artificial intelligence, the Internet of Things and beyond. All of these technologies can be used to help public-sector workers be more productive and, as a result, better support their residents.

Examples of services which have been transformed using digital tools and solutions can be found across the full range of council services. Scarborough Borough Council’s approach to changing both the customer and back-office sides of its refuse collection service involved using online forms, routing planning and in-cab technology. It has seen increased engagement of frontline staff and has already delivered substantial efficiency savings.

Alternative working patterns are made possible by technologies that offer the functionality to meet and collaborate virtually. The London Borough of Camden, as part of the Timewise Council Programme, began to encourage flexible working requests as part of all job adverts. These efforts, in conjunction with their broader strategy, have resulted in a wider range of quality applicants. Initiatives like these help build capacity within the workforce to allow us to continue to meet future challenges within the public sector.

Increasingly, we also see digital tools and solutions being used to improve outcomes in social care; we must consider how such tools may be used in the future to further address a problem widely acknowledged to be one of the most challenging areas for local government. Conservative-controlled Hampshire County Council has used assistive technology to improve the lives of older and vulnerable residents. This work has also relieved pressure on carers and has saved the county council over £7m net of contract costs.

Amidst this opportunity, there are significant challenges as we move towards more digitally enabled workforces and places. The challenge of connectivity, in particular universal access to reliable and affordable connectivity, is one of the biggest hurdles, as this is the enabling infrastructure which will allow the public sector to fully utilise the potential of digital tools and solutions to support the delivery of public service.

Data sharing, cyber security and integration with legacy systems are potential barriers that must also be part of the conversation. Where these can be addressed, whether within or between organisations, the potential gains are substantial. Several councils have worked on pulling together related datasets to support their frontline staff, such as social workers, to access information from a range of sources and provide a holistic view of a client. This in turn empowers the social worker to better tailor their approach to meet the needs of their client, resulting in early intervention and improved outcomes.

Although there is much to celebrate, continuing this discussion is vital to ensure that existing work and good practice within the public sector is shared, adapted, improved and used to inform action that reflects the particular circumstances and challenges of different services. This will also help ensure that, as new technologies become available, the sector is well placed to co-opt technologies to make public services more efficient, effective and seamless for the user.

 

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